Consumer Confidence rebounds in Key Economies in Q1 2013

Global consumer confidence increased in the first quarter of 2013, rising two index points to 93 from 91 in Q4 2012, according to findings from the Nielsen Global Survey of Consumer Confidence and Spending Intentions. Improved consumer attitudes about job prospects, personal finances and the ability to spend in the U.S., across key Asian export markets and throughout northern and central Europe helped drive the quarterly uptick. On a year-over-year basis, however, the Q1 2013 index score of 93 is a point lower than it was in Q1 2012.

The Nielsen Global Survey of Consumer Confidence and Spending Intentions measures consumer confidence, major concerns and spending intentions among more than 29,000 respondents with Internet access in 58 countries. Consumer confidence levels above and below a baseline of 100 indicate degrees of optimism and pessimism.

“Economic perceptions signaled positive momentum as global job prospects, personal finances and spending intentions cautiously edged up in Q1 2013,” said Dr. Venkatesh Bala, chief economist at The Cambridge Group, a part of Nielsen. “Encouraged by positive signs in the U.S. economy and continued steady performance in China, consumer confidence in developed Asian economies rebounded strongly last quarter, as Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan posted double-digit confidence increases.”

In the latest survey, conducted Feb. 18–March 8, 2013, consumer confidence rose in 60 percent of markets measured by Nielsen, compared with a 33-percent increase in the previous quarter. North America (94) reported the biggest quarterly increase of four points, followed by Asia-Pacific (103), which increased two index points. Declines were reported in the Middle East/Africa region (85), which decreased 11 index points, and in Latin America (94), which declined two index points. Europe’s regional consumer confidence index of 71 held steady from Q4 2012.

Confidence increased four points in the U.S. (93), four points in Germany (91), 14 points in Japan (73), and held steady in China (108) from their levels in Q4 2012.

“We suspect that fears of the European debt crisis spreading beyond recession-stricken southern European countries may have eased in the first quarter,” said Dr. Bala. “However, weak labor market conditions in troubled economies, including Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain, and the recent Cyprus financial crisis are further indications of the fragile state of the European economy, which continue to hinder a full recovery in the region.”

While confidence increased four points in the U.S., the country’s index of 93 is below the pre-recessionary average of 103 between 2005 and 2007.

“Americans are in phase two of the economic recovery, however, for many, it just doesn’t feel that way,” said James Russo, senior vice president, Global Consumer Insights, Nielsen. “Three years of strong gains in the equity market are balanced by five years of declining median household incomes, which highlights the economic divide and precarious state of the recovery.”

In addition to steady consumer confidence in China, key Asian export markets rebounded strongly in the first quarter. Japan reported its highest consumer confidence score since 2006, which raised optimism toward economic recovery amid government-led financial policies. Likewise, South Korea increased 13 index points to 51, fueled by the expectation that new government policies would lift the economy out of stagnation. Hong Kong’s first-quarter performance reversed two previous quarters of declining consumer confidence, increasing the index to the highest level since Q1 2008. In Taiwan, a rise of 12 index points in Q1 to a score of 78 showed optimism, but the level is still below year-ago confidence results.

Other findings include:

Spending intentions in North America have increased since the beginning of the Great Recession in 2008.

Confidence in key Asian export economies rebounded strongly in Q1.

Consumer confidence in central and northern Europe increased in Q1, surpassing year-ago levels.

Latin Americans reported spending restraint and the region’s confidence dipped two points in Q1.

Consumer confidence in the Middle East/Africa region declined to the lowest level in three years.

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